Have you ever considered Banja Luka as a possible vacation spot after the pandemic? Well, if you haven’t, you should definitely change your mind! We’ve already created the Ultimate Banja Luka Guide for First Time Visitors and showed you the Top 10 Ten Things to Do in Banja Luka, so today we want to dig deeper and show you 5 insider spots that shouldn’t be missing on your Banja Luka bucket list!
Banski Dvor: Cultural Center + Popular Selfie-Spot
The first spot we want to share with you, even though it might be less convenient than it was pre-Covid, is Banski Dvor Cultural Center. Its history dates back to the 1930s, when some of the best architects in the region were asked to send in their ideas for the new center. A year later, construction started and it was finished in 1932. Still today, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and one of Banja Luka’s cultural hotspots. It’s a place where you can hear great musicians play, see amazing art exhibitions, and even some plays. You’ll not only see/hear local and regional artists here, but world-famous ones as well.
With its recently renovated gorgeous facade, Banski Dvor has also became one of the most popular selfie spots in the city, as it is blessed with the best light for most of the day. So in case you’re in Banja Luka during lockdown when there are no events, you can at least admire the facade of Banski Dvor and the surrounding sculptures, and get some nice pictures.
Local Tip: while you’re there, head towards the entrance to the back courtyard – you’ll find a small bakery shop with the best tahini halva in town.
The University Campus, a place to just chill (and study too)
Banja Luka is known for its university, with thousands of students who study and live here. There are faculties all over the city, but the university headquarters and most of the dorms are located at the University Campus.
Besides serving its purpose, the campus is a really popular place to chill and hang out. On a nice and sunny day, you’ll not only see students stuyding there – you’ll see kids with their parents and grandparents, people walking their dogs, and students just chilling all over the gorgeous park and marvelous botanical garden. At the campus, you’ll see an alley of 99 plane trees, as well as 13 other amazing tree species widespread around the whole area. Moreover, you can hear birds singing almost all the time – there are about 55 different species living among these trees.
But our favorite spot is at the very back of the complex – it’s a meadow with a huge indigo bush, which creates the perfect shade in the summer. This clearly makes it the ideal picnic spot if you ask us!
Enjoy the Vrbas River
The Vrbas river is one of Banja Luka’s main attractions in the summertime. There’s so much you can do to enjoy this beautiful green river, starting with a simple walk along the river banks. If you are looking for a refreshment, you can either go for a swim in the rather cold water, or you can head upstream to Srpske Toplice and take a dip in thermal water pools. In case you are feeling a little more adventurous, you should try rafting or kayaking in the impressive Vrbas Canyon. Also, you have to experience a ride on Banja Luka’s favorite boat – it’s callled dayak, and is a special kind of canoe that was invented in Banja Luka.
If we say you should explore the Vrbas, we literally mean you should explore it! Get off the beaten paths if you want to find some really nice secluded beaches with a lot of sunshine. Start your journey at Zeleni Most (the Green Bridge) and go upstream. Every couple of meters you’ll find stairs or a path which lead you down to the water. Just sit by the water and meditate, let its calming spirit clear your mind. You might also stumble upon a couple of dayaks in their natural habitat.
Have a cup of coffee @ Slap Restaurant
If you’re looking for a nice place to eat or just have some coffee away from the city’s hustle and bustle, we recommend driving upstream, along the Vrbas river. About 15 minutes away from the city center, you’ll find a restaurant called ‘’Slap”, with a large terrace sitting above the river. If you do get the chance to visit, you have to try their homemade Turkish coffee, served traditionally in a džezva copper pot, from which you pour it into a tiny cup called fildžan. You’ll also get a lokum (a type of cookie) on the side.
Besides just sitting down for a coffee, you’ll get the chance to see a collection of antique cameras, radio players, TVs, and other cool things inside the restaurant. Outside, you’ll see a parking lot with a bunch of oldtimers, which are quite a popular visitor attraction.
National Park Mrakovica @ Kozara Mountain
Mrakovica is a national park located on the nearby Kozara Mountain, and it’s a popular picnic spot about an hour from the city. This is not really a secret, nor is it located exactly in Banja Luka, but we still have to recommend it because it’s a perfect place to enjoy nature and some fresh air, as it never gets too crowded.
The mountain itself is very scenic in all seasons – the forest is magnificent, and you’ll surely enjoy your ride to the top. Once you get to the National Park Mrakovica, you can climb up the large-scale stairs to the very top. Up there you’ll see the Monument of the Revolution – a World War II memorial sculpture by the famous Yugoslav sculptor Dušan Džamonja. The monument is quite picturesque itself, but you have to try sliding into it and taking a photo of the sky from the inside. We love chilling around the monument and enjoying the views of the wonderful forest that surrounds it!
If the main picnic area feels a bit crowded to you, feel free to wander around. There are so many trails to walk, so many spots to see – you can always get away from the crowd when you’re up there.
We hope we could raise your wanderlust and motivate you to explore Banja Luka off the beaten paths. In case you can’t go to Banja Luka for now, we recommending saving this blog post for later.